They are 25 feet tall and they are hideous. You can see them from the Massachusetts Turnpike, from Lansdowne Street, and from Section 9, Row 12, Seats 1 and 2. You can probably see them from the top of Mount Wachusett if you have a telephoto lens.
They are three giant fiberglass Coke bottles and they are strapped to a light tower that rises from the top of Fenway Park’s historic Green Monster.
Purists will be sickened. This is not your father’s Fenway anymore. We have grudgingly accepted the 600 Club, the megascoreboard in center, and the rotating advertisements in right. But now there are monstrous Coke bottles on top of the left-field wall.
It’s a shocker, like standing outside the Sistine Chapel and seeing a sign announcing, ``Thursday is Bingo Night.’’
Fenway has been many things through the years, but never tacky. Now it’s as if Billy Payne and the Atlanta Olympic Committee landed in Boston. Those guys would put a yogurt stand on the first floor of the House of Seven Gables.
What’s next, Red Sox? Ronald McDonald catching relievers in the visitors’ bullpen? Grounds crew members wearing Poulan Weedeater uniforms? A Century 21 sign on home plate? A Firestone pitcher’s rubber? Ads stenciled into the Fenway lawn (``Right-center field, brought to you by the Gap’’)?
Yikes. Take a drive around Fenway. Glance skyward and see the three colossal Coke bottles. These things look like they should be guarding the fake cows in front of the Hilltop on Route 1 -- or flanking the entrance to a new ride at Canobie Lake Park.
Fenway is a charming bandbox no more. This year you can go to the Red Sox’ home park and fill in your favorite soft drink slogan: Coke is it. It’s the real thing. A Coke and a smile. I’d like to buy the world a Coke.
And can’t you just hear future generations telling their grandchildren about their first visit to Fenway in the summer of 1997 . . .
I’ll never forget the time my dad took me by the hand and walked me up the ramp and into Fenway. I couldn’t believe all the green. The smell of the grass. The fresh air. And then Mark McGwire clanged one off the monster Coke bottle during BP. I’ll never forget that sound of cowhide smacking fiberglass. Now whenever I go to 7-Eleven for a Big Gulp, I think of my first trip to Fenway.
The Coke bottles were unveiled last week in a special Red Sox/Coke press session. And now they tower over Fenway, a tangible testament to a five-year contract extension that will help the Jimmy Fund (Coke has pledged to donate no less than $100,000 per year to the Sox’ official charity) and provide Sox fans with coupons for cut-rate tickets when purchasing the product.
No one loves the Jimmy Fund more than yours truly (rumor is that Coke will donate $3,000 every time a batter hits a bottle), and the Sox have a relationship with Coke that dates to 1916 -- when Babe Ruth was downing six hot dogs and Cokes between innings. But . . . this is just too much. The good deeds could be done without desecrating a local landmark.
Every time the Sox commercialize their ballpark, there’s another dark spot on the soul of Red Sox Nation. Do you think John Updike, Roger Angell, Donald Honig, Ken Burns, and Doris Kearns Goodwin will continue to romanticize Fenway if its natural beauty is routinely sacrificed in the name of corporate sponsorship?
Red Sox publicist Dick Bresciani believes the Sox have stayed within the boundaries of good taste and says, ``We didn’t want a neon flashing bottle. Nothing obtrusive. This is an old-style bottle, one that’s well known. The cap doesn’t pop off. There’s no Coke shooting in the air. We felt like we weren’t ruining Fenway Park because for years there have been signs on and around Fenway.’’
True. In the old days, the left-field wall served as New England’s largest billboard. Before World War II, ads for whiskey, razor blades, and soap plastered the wall. An ad proclaiming that ``The Red Sox use Lifebouy Soap’’ prompted Boston schoolchildren to quip, ``The Sox may use Lifebouy Soap, but they still stink!’’
When he owned the Sox, the late Tom Yawkey had the Wall painted green in 1947, and it hasn’t been used for commercial purposes in a half-century. Now this.
“John Harrington had a lot of input,’’ insists the ever loyal Bresciani. “He wanted it to be something with taste. We didn’t go for any kind of flashing bottle. This is a major change at Fenway Park. And we think it might add excitement for kids to see a ball hit off the Coke bottle.’’
He’s right, of course. The big bottles probably will be popular with a new generation of fans. Marketing gurus have determined that baseball is a tough sell in the 1990s, so the sport insists on promoting everything unrelated to hits, runs, and errors.
But it’s too much. Sorry, there’s just something unnatural about Bucky Dent turning on a Mike Torrez fastball and rattling it off the Coke bottle in left.
Our hardball shrine has been violated once again. Have a Coke and a frown.